Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Birthday Party

I know that we parents are supposed to find our own children's birthday parties stressful. I have no first hand experience, really, because the Noodle has not been keen on having a large party to date. But I see the pain of other parents, the smiling through gritted teeth and the highly-flexed muscles as the fairy bread is delivered to the table. I also remember my generally vile behaviour at my own childhood birthday parties (especially the sixth, when I sulked in my bedroom for reasons I do not remember and refused to come out), which I assume was rather more than irritating for my poor mother who had slaved with the decorating of biscuits and birthday cake and inventing games and so on.

What I want to know, though, is whether other parents find other children's birthday parties stressful as well? Or is that just us?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

backyard life skills

The thing about AFL is that all the skills you learned coping with siblings are thoroughly utilised. Dodging and weaving, thumping, running away as fast as you can, feinting and occasional taunting. All useful. All highly paid.

Unfortunately for me, whining and crying are not highly regarded by AFL selectors. Alas for being the younger child.

Go Lions (half time lead at the SCG - haven't won a game there since 2002).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Demon fingers

You know, some of the birch trees along the side of the road look rather too much like the grasping, evil Green Noah for my liking. Only when they don't have leaves, though.

I wish Linnet was nearby, especially now that St Christopher has been declared imaginary.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eva Ibbotson, J.K. Rowling, Gerald Durrell, Karl Marx

A diverse kind of reading for the past week, but in some ways all about quite fantastic adventures in other worlds (of varying accessibility).

The Noodle and I have been reading The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson, although he took over with the silent reading partly in response to my laryngitis and partly because he couldn't bear to wait another night until he found out what happened next with Odge and Ben and the horrendous Raymond Trottle. Ibbotson is not one to have a bet each way on her ghastly characters. They have no redeeming features at all, as far as I can tell. He has now progressed to Which Witch and has decided there should be a Facebook quiz called 'Which Which Witch character are you". He thinks no one would want to be Madame Olympia, and if anyone did get her that they are the kind of person he doesn't want to know. Or friend on Facebook, anyway.

I have also been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and am being quite astonished at how much time packing and organising Fleur and Bill's wedding is taking. We bought the DVDs of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban for when the Noodle has screwed his courage to the sticking place. He enjoyed Philosopher's Stone very much in the end. With only a few gasps of horror and hands in front of eyes moments.

But the fantasy world I am enjoying inhabiting most is Durrell's Corfu in My Family and Other Animals, which is making me laugh and wish I was sitting in the baking sun with a plentiful supply of figs. But with less random target shooting from family members, I suppose. Corfu seems quite a lot more magical and exotic than most of the English drawing-room fantasies (thanks to Judith for the term) that I read as a child. I didn't much like the book when I was a kid, I think I wanted the exotic in the form of English high teas, green lanes and I'm-game-if-you-are attitudes, not the added layer of exoticism of English people actually leaving England (and not for Narnia, which is so very English anyway). Given my fetishisation of English fantasy, it's astonishing I've never been there, or perhaps not, since I doubt England is actually infested with children having magical adventures, and would be somewhat of a letdown.

The Karl Marx thing is a tenuous link, actually. But I was rather reflecting on how he was such an outsider in England but how his children were so English. How he was trying to have a revolution, but was so concerned with the respectability and marriageabilty of his daughters and the worry of having no surviving sons to support them. And how the constant change and upset of his life is much more in the 19th century tradition of topys-turvy fantasy than the conceptually consistent and tightly plotted children's fantasies that I still so much enjoy.

And all this came on from reading Charlotte's Library, which is an addictive blog about children's and young adult fantasy books, wot makes me think lots.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

*hack hack splutter wheeze*

Canberra strikes again. My co-workers suggested I stay home tomorrow because they are tired of hearing the above sounds emanating from my pod.

I don't feel ill, I am just making some hideous respiratory noises. This city is utterly vile and germ filled and also laden with pollen and dust and other small things that your run-of-the-mill bronchiole (not braciole) just can't cope with.

Otherwise it is a great town, honest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The High Court Judge test

Now, I'm aware that this post will tell you all a bit too much about my upbringing and expectations, but there it is. I have utterly no desire for the Noodle to be a lawyer but somehow this whole lawyer thing is in there, and I can't quite manage to expel it. Despite the fact that we have no lawyers in our family, not one, never, ever, ever and quite possibly never will.

When we were expecting the baby, as yet nameless, we thought of many names. We thought of names from our families, names from literary theorists and philosophers and favourite books. We thought of names off the telly and names we remembered fondly from primary school. A lot of the names we thought of became redundant after the ultra sound when we discovered that Rosie or Raphaela would not be appropriate. The Noodle is pleased he was not a girl, because he would have preferred Lily or Lucy for himself (herself, I mean, I suppose - not that he's alone there, thousands of parents have picked Lily and Lucy in recent years, that's for sure. Pretty names, too, but not ones we thought of).

So we got to a point where we had a handful of names. Some of which we look back at and think 'heavens to betsy, we didn't have sleep deprivation at the time, what freakish anomaly could explain us even considering that name'? But most of them were OK. And we subjected all the names to the High Court Judge test, which is what you have to think about if your kid might grow up to want to be a High Court Judge, and how would he or she feel about being called Justice Whatever. So Justice Fifi Trixiebelle is a tough one, perhaps lacking in the necessary gravitas. It's not to be conservative, some pretty wild names sound damn fine after 'Justice' but some just sound a little uncomfortable together.

The other professions we road tested were author and foreign correspondent, which also probably tells you a bit too much about our general attitudes to the world. A lot of unpleasant stuff was going on in the US at the time, so we had to try out all the names followed by 'Washington' in an ABC sort of voice. It's a good test. The ABC website should promote it. Plus it makes you say the name lots of times in a row, so you can see if you get used to it. And sometimes your mouth saying the name makes your mind just boggle.

All of which is to say, it's very exciting that people are having babies, and I can't wait to meet them and find out their names.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The people on the bus

It's quite amazing the detail you can know about the people on the bus. The man with fleshy earlobes, his right ear has three tiny moles, the tiniest nestled right near his neck. He has dandruff, but just a little. The woman who sometimes sings along to the hits and memories who has golden red hair and wears her beret perched on her head, like the lid to a large disposable coffee cup popped on top of an egg cup. The young woman who smiles and looks like someone you'd like to know who turns out to be partnered with the young man from the earlier bus who always says 'hello' in the mornings, and when they appear together they also belong to a jaunty and observant toddler who is never, ever on the bus himself.

There's the woman who wears a red coat and reads the same two prayers, over and over again, every morning with the same intense concentration and look of patient pleasure. The girls who can talk and talk and talk to each other or their mobile phones and we all know about their boyfriends and betrayals and the parties they are going to but they haven't told their mums. I expect the mums really know, but they could ask anyone on the bus if they needed the details.

And on the way home, the dad with the little girl, who goes to sleep facing the wrong way on the seat and has to be carried off along with the briefcase, the schoolbag and shopping for dinner. And all of us waiting, waiting, waiting to get home to dinner and the warm and the light and maybe a little bit of TV and sleep, before we all wake up and stand at our stops, climb aboard and ignore all the other people on the bus.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Here I am in the mood for some research again. Research of the kind that you do in the library with books and archived newspapers and old exam papers and other interesting stuff that recklessly throws itself in the path of your questing brain. Later there will be time for organising and structuring and making choices, but right now it's just time for looking and reading and thinking and dreaming. Of course, this is the easiest bit and sometimes tricks you into thinking it's the funnest bit, but actually the part when the threads start to come together and narratives and little clusters of information start forming (like lumps in bad gravy or hopelessly tangled knitting) is probably the most exciting for me.

I was lucky enough in my last job to have a fair bit of these research processes, spread across the National Library of Australia and diverse other specialist collections. The fun of it all. My current job doesn't have much of this kind of work, apart from looking back over our own files, which can be a journey of discovery all its own I admit but hardly nourishing in the long run.

But being in a festive sort of research mood has accidentally put me in a 'reflecting on what went wrong with my PhD' sort of mood as well. It's more elegiac than forensic, though, I guess. But generally speaking I think what went wrong (external forces aside) is that I asked the wrong question, so the answers I got just were not all that interesting to me. I didn't have the skills to answer the question I really wanted to ask, so I didn't ask it. 18 months in the public service has taught me that I can learn to do anything*, so stupid me for not just putting up my hand and saying that I needed to do a bit of coursework in my study plan. So here is my advice to budding researchers - ask yourself a question you really want to know the answer to, not a question that fits what you think you can find out.

At the moment in my research space I have lots of small questions to answer, which I hope will add up to some bigger sorts of answers in the long run. And I'm very happy to be here in the heart of the nation, with lots of nice, research-friendly, national institutions.

*within certain limits, naturally.

Examining the past

Monash University seems to be running a research project on the English curriculum in Australia. They have a selection of PDFs of past papers from 1914 to the present.

Whenever you think that the internet is no use to a body except for entertainment and chatting, something brilliant turns up.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Public service

I had a big rant about public service probity and how it seems very strong in the Best Department Evah and how I felt quite downhearted about the whole Godwin Grech thing and even more downhearted about how Some People seemed to think it was not really a Big Deal. And how it gobsmacked me most astonishing that the Public Service Commissioner had to come out and remind people that public servants work for the executive part of the government, not for the Opposition or indeed anybody else. And that whistleblowing and making up porky pies to give to the Opposition are not, in fact, similar things at all.

But it got a bit personal so I took it down.

Ooops, there it is again, up there. But a bit less, well, personal and political.

And my mistake turned out actually to be a difference of opinion rather than wrongness, and a compromise has been reached with no lasting wounds. Or at least none that I've noticed yet.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

First assignment

The Noodle is working on his first ever assignment for school. He is writing about Antarctica and making a poster. He's picked a few animals and is now writing about Shackleton.

He's doing a very good job of picking out the information he wants to use and summarising it in a few key points. I wish I'd learned how to do that. Obviously the husband who paid attention at university is doing a fine job of offering guidance to the young feller.

Ampersand Duck's new studio

Yesterday the Noodle and I, with another friend, attended the launch of Ms Duck's new studio and her beautiful press. I love the elegance of a proper piece of industrial machinery, and the process that goes into to producing art (durable and ephemeral) from ink and paper and metal. I wish I knew what it smelt like.

The event was, of course, celebratory. The happiness of something new is always fun, and you only had to look at Ampersand Duck to see what the studio meant to her.

I think, for those of us who aren't artists or who don't make things with our hands, we tend to forget the work, the space needed to make things, the hands on doing of making. We get used to seeing the finished thing, and nothing else. Ampersand Duck's studio has space for the process of printing, space for designing, space for reading and thinking. I guess the garden outside is for time away from the desk, away from the work; a mind-freshing place.

I love the beauty that Ampersand Duck produces. It was a Good Thing to see a part of how it happens, and that there is a place just for that, and not for all the other bits of life.